In "The Glass Menagerie," what was the difference in atmosphere between the Wingfields' neighborhood and events in Europe?
The tittering laughter and light music floating in from the Paradise Dance Hall (note the name) and the movies Tom escapes to stage the sense of transience and fragility, dominent leit-motifs throughout The Glass Menagerie. People are always coming from or going to places - everyone, that is, except Laura. Laura is transfixed in her make-believe world, but the dancers across the street and the moviegoers such as Tom are caught up in their own kind of denial and escapism as well. They are like butterflies fluttering about, much like Amanda, all giddy in overexhuberence and hyperactivity. This is only a mirrored reflection - an illusion - of the felicity they wish to portray. Against this is the darker backdrop of war and the threat of economic implosion. While waiting for 'the bubble to burst,' they dance their cares away...
In the opening lines of the play Tom indicates that the work is set in the 1930s, and that America is being willfully blind. This means they are looking away from the social troubles that are going on all around them, including the Wingfields' neighborhood. They are quite explicitly not paying attention to the growing unrest that would be the Spanish Civil War and the rise of the Nazis. The neighborhood is pretending that these troubles don't exist, much as the entire family pretends troubles don't exist or aren't what they are. Therefore, the neighborhood is much like their lives: artificially beautiful, in a world that is quite harsh.
Examine Tom's speech near the start of Scene Five: "Across the alley was the Paradise Dance Hall . . ." Though insulated from Guernica and revolution, there is nevertheless a sense of restlessness and grim anticipation: "All the world was waiting for bombardments!" The neighborhood - indeed, the country - is being forced to come to terms with the failed economy. The dance hall and the movies are escapes for people forced to live on a daily basis with the grind of poverty and the angst of financial insecurity; they are the "compensation for lives that passed like [Tom's]."